We are very results oriented in our culture. When my children tell me about their day, they usually punctuate the conversation with something they accomplished at school on a task or a test. On the rare occasions I miss an athletic event, my kids tell me the outcome of the game before anything else.
We approach prayer similarly; when we pray, we want to see results. Jesus describes prayer in Matthew 7:9-11 by explaining that God is like a parent. “If your child asks for bread do you give him sawdust? If he asks for a fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? … you wouldn’t think of such a thing… don’t you think that the God who conceived you in love will be even better?”
When I was in high school, my best friend and I were getting ready to leave his house to go hang out, but we had to run an errand for his mother first. She wanted us to go pick up an Academy Award-winning movie that had just been released for rental that day. Mike huffed at his mom as he grabbed the car keys, “It just came out today, Mom…” he complained, “They aren’t going to have it!”
I will never forget her response. “Yes they will, I have prayed for it and the Lord will provide.” After Mike and I drove to several different Blockbuster locations, it became quite apparent that the Lord was not going to provide his mother with an in-home viewing of “Driving Miss Daisy” that evening. Mike and I still laughabout it.But, was that sawdust instead of bread?
I’m sure we could all provide a long list of things we have prayed for that have not transpired at all or not in the way we had asked. My list, possibly like many of yours, includes life and death kinds of requests. Prayers in the moments after my sister stopped breathing, or in my mother-in-law’s hospital room as her condition deteriorated inexplicably. A snake instead of fish?
When I read Matthew 7, I wonder what kind of loving parent wouldn’t answer those prayers.
But I have to acknowledge that sometimes those prayers are answered. Sometimes people are healed. Sometimes God even provides answers to seeminglythe most inconsequential things: like the location of lost keys.
Is there some type of formula that isn’t fulfilled when prayers go unanswered?
When my children sit on my lap and ask me for something, I don’t consider how passionately or how many times they ask me as I decide whether or not to grant their request. The only “formula” involved ismy consideration of whether giving them what they ask for is actually in their best interest. That is also a precarious metaphorfor the workings of prayer.
We can’t even begin to consider why some prayers are answered and others are not… however…
What if the point of prayer is NOT the result? What if prayer is NOT about the outcome?
What if the focus of prayer has more to do with transforming the posture of our heart than God delivering what we ask?
While it is easy to view prayer as an order to be filled, a moment of prayer is a rare instance in our day when we acknowledge that we are NOT in control of our destiny. It is a moment when we recognize that we need our dad.
I love when my kids ask me for things. I don’t always say yes, but with each request I am satisfied they trust more and more that I desire what is best for them, that they need me and know that I will be there for them.
We so often focus on prayer as our path to God, but I wonder if it isn’t the other way around. I wonder if the more we pray the more conditioned our hearts become to the truth that we need God.
Maybe Frederick Buechner is right when he says that prayer is not about clearing a path to God’s door before he will open it, maybe it is the other way around, “…because until you beat the path maybe there’s no way of getting to your door.”